Parliamentary speeches

Visa privatisation - time is running out

October 14, 2019

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the Government plans to privatise Australia's visa processing system;

(b) under the Government's plan, a private tenderer will be given licence to run Australia's visa processing system as a for-profit business; and

(c) the Government will decide the winning tenderer in October 2019;

(2) acknowledges that:

(a) visa and citizenship processing times have blown out under this Government;

(b) more than 230,000 people are on bridging visas;

(c) more than 220,000 people are on waiting lists for their citizenship; and

(d) the Government has failed to preserve and enhance the integrity of Australia's visa processing system; and

(3) calls on the Government to stop its privatisation of Australia's visa processing system.

Time is running out to stop the Morrison government from privatising Australia's visa system. Later this month, the Morrison government will decide who will run our visa processing system. Will it be the Australian government, accountable to the Australian people through this place, the Australian parliament? Or will it be big companies, accountable only to their shareholders and the profit motive? If the Prime Minister gets his way, he'll outsource $1 billion of visa processing off to the highest bidder. Today we see the same Prime Minister railing against profiteering banks by setting up an ACCC inquiry. I say this to him and to members opposite: if you were so worried about profiteering, you would not be privatising Australia's visa-processing system, especially when one of the consortiums is one of those big banks.

Labor believes that there is a genuine need for an ACCC study into visa privatisation so that we can see what the anticompetitive consequences of outsourcing our visa system will be. Labor is very concerned that the market power associated with the establishment of the private visa system, and associated monopoly power, may have major anticompetitive impacts both for visa applicants and for businesses. And let's be clear here: outsourcing our visa system will lead to significant job losses, increased visa costs, greater risks of worker exploitation, and data security issues, and will make protecting our national security more difficult. Do we really want our visa system to be outsourced? Do we really want our visa system to be outsourced to a monopoly provider? Isn't this a core responsibility of our national government? We in Labor believe it is, and we will be fighting for it.

There are 2,000 jobs around the country that are at risk if the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs sell off our visa system without the right supervision. In New South Wales, 800 jobs are at risk. In Queensland, 250 jobs are at risk—and I look forward to hearing from the member for Ryan in this regard. I note that he won't be assisted by the government's talking points for today, which don't seem to acknowledge that this is a major issue for the government. In Western Australia, 150 jobs could go. In Hobart, 100 visa-processing jobs are set to be lost. And what do we know? LNP backroom dealer Scott Briggs, a close friend of the Prime Minister and a former colleague of the immigration minister, is a major investor in one of the bids to win the contract. What a coincidence! And this is why the Prime Minister and the immigration minister haven't spoken about this—they've recused themselves. But this doesn't explain, much less justify, the vow of silence taken by the Minister for Home Affairs. He should be talking about this. He should be explaining why this crazy proposal is, in fact, in the national interest. What's the context? We have massive blowouts at the moment in wait times for people applying to be Australian citizens, with over 220,000 people waiting. At the same time, this third-term government is embarking upon a dangerous folly to outsource visa processing. But Australians don't want this system sold off, they want to see it fixed. And they especially don't want to see it flogged off to one of the PM's mates.

Over in the UK, we see where visa privatisation is already well advanced. It's like seeing a preview of what we will soon encounter if this is not stopped as it should be. Reports have shown that visa applicants can attend one of just six core centres around the country which offer a free service, or they can go to others which charge a fee starting from 60 pounds, forcing people to travel hundreds of miles or pay high fees in order to submit their applications. We've seen reports of refugees being forced to pay 780 pounds just to have their application processed. We've seen reports of residency being granted in exchange for a two-million-pound investment. A privatised system will inevitably lead to people paying for access to our visa system, because that is what happens when you introduce the profit motive in place of the national interest. Is that what we want here in Australia? I think the answer is and has to be a resounding no. Australians want their government to take responsibility for this core government responsibility, not contract it out.

We are almost out of time to stop this. A decision is due to be made one way or the other this month. I'm aware that more than 10,000 people have already signed our online petition to stop this. They've made clear their concerns. And what have they got from members opposite up to this point? They've got silence. They haven't got any response at all. But what they are entitled to is a response, a clear answer. It is now up to the Morrison government, and in particular the Minister for Home Affairs, to stop privatising Australia's visa system immediately. They won't justify this billion-dollar sell-off, because they can't, but they must bring this privatisation experiment to an end now in the national interest and on behalf of 2,000 Australian workers who deserve to keep their jobs.

A FAIR GO FOR AUSTRALIA